In her third chapter of Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning, Char Booth provides an apt name for a process I’ve been working on quite deliberately for the last eight months. It’s that process of “observation, documentation, integration and acknowledgment” of “ideas collected through chance and diligence” (Booth, 2011, p. 26). Booth calls it “gleaning”. Up until now, I’ve called this process my “system”, in tribute to Meredith Farkas’ blog post, Lifting the Veil on My ‘System’, which is the most inspirational overview on this topic that I’ve found.
It is the “documentation” and “acknowledgment” elements of Booth’s model that have been the focus of my gleaning energies. Booth advises that “you should always give yourself the means to keep track of the useful things you run across in order to follow up on them after the fact” (p. 26). This seems obvious, but in the weeks leading up to my first SLIS semester, I realized I was in very real danger of being completely overwhelmed by all the links, posts, articles and other materials that I knew would be coming my way. I had no system in place.
My efforts into becoming a better documenter began with a major revamp of my bookmarking system. I experimented with Delicious and Pinterest, but decided I didn’t need the mobile or social capabilities of these tools just yet. Instead, I am now exploiting all of Firefox’s personal bookmarking capabilities. To better manage my RSS feeds, I sat down with my old friend, Google Reader, and got intentional about giving my subscriptions more meaningful names and organizing them more effectively into ranked folders. I’m learning to “favorite” blog posts and tweets that I want to come back to later, and have gotten into the habit of regularly looking through those “favorites” lists, and following up on interesting content. My biggest victory in the area of documentation and acknowledgment has been in learning how to manage citations in Zotero and to save and annotate PDFs in Mendeley. These two tools, in particular, have transformed the way I manage my research.
I think any gleaning methodology must be a work in constant progress, as tools will come and go, and information sources change and expand. But it’s so important to, as Booth says (p. 26), “give yourself” a way to consolidate and internalize information that you’re gathering from multiple channels. As a vital component of “transformative learning”—with its heavy emphasis on gathering insight from others—the practical processes involved in gleaning should also be a consideration when we instruct others in information and digital literacies.
Booth, C. (2011). Reflective teaching, effective learning: Instructional literacy for library educators. Chicago: American Library Association.